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Sister Alice Honored

January 13, 2011

Sister Alice Zachmann Honored
for Her Work to End Torture 

In 2002, when Sister Alice Zachmann retired from her job as director of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory wrote, “She’s getting a grand sendoff next month, but she’ll be right back volunteering the next day.”

“She doesn’t mind if you call her radical – ‘Jesus was a radical, too.’ She’s hoping now that Americans won’t grow indifferent to human rights and civil rights, which are under heavy attack from the Justice Department. She hopes we won’t be carried away by the desire for “law and order” that overtook Guatemala.” 

A former teacher and school administrator, Sr. Alice fell in love with Guatemala during visits in the 1970’s, but was appalled by the country’s poverty, and by the human rights abuses of those in power. She moved to from Minnesota to Washington, DC, where she was the founder and, for twenty years, the Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA.
            McGrory was right about Sr. Alice continuing to volunteer. For eight years after leaving the Commission, she served as Office and Outreach manager for the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International, founded by her friend and colleague Sister Diana Ortiz, herself a survivor of torture in Guatemala. The organization Pax Christi gave Sr. Alice its “Peacemaker of the Year” award in 2009.
            “Alice is renowned in the human rights world for her tenacity and her excellent disposition,” McGrory wrote. “She is incurably cheerful and non-confrontational.” The Refuge Media Project documentary crew got the benefit of those qualities when she helped to arrange and coordinate our interviews of several torture survivors who are TASSC members. We’re glad we had the opportunity to meet her. The picture above was taken during that vist.
            Last year, at the age of 84, Sister Alice returned to her religious community in Minnesota, where she continues to speak on human rights and the continuing travesty of torture to local schools and churches. She was honored by TASSC at a program on United Nations Human Rights Day, December 10, 2010.

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